Thursday, 21 June 2012

Hand & Flowers

I first saw Tom Kerridge on Great British Menu in 2010 (it was the year he won the main course with his roast duck and duck-fat chips). Not only did he seem like a great bloke but (and this is going to sound clichéd) I was struck by the way he was so innovative in both the dishes and their presentation - the crayfish scotch egg will always stick in my mind. Coupled with the fact that he serves up his food in the (at the time) only Michelin-starred pub in the UK meant that the Hand and Flowers made its way on to my wish list rather easily.

This week I finally got to go to this, now 2 starred (and more on that subject later), gastro-pub with a friend from work.

It really is a delightfully restored old country pub at the end of Marlow high-street. The interior is bare wood aplenty, with risk-of-head-hittingly low beams, and really a touch too dark. Although it's a pub, the bar is only a couple of metres long (if that). The thing that gets people in is obviously the food. This is what we had (apologies in advance for the poor photos).


Fried whitebait and bread

I don't normally talk about the nibbles but these whitebait were quite unexpected but light and delightfully crisp. And the bread. Oh, I could have eaten the sour-dough bread slathered with butter till the cows came home.


Crispy Pig's Head with Rhubarb, Crackling and Pancetta

This was a brilliant starter. The pig's head was terrifically meaty and porky. Even though I was expecting a rather more solid filling under the golden crisp exterior (I guess I was expecting more of a crubeen), which was a bit disconcerting at first but not to the detriment of the dish. The rhubarb came in a variety of form including puréed and the revelation that was pickled. I think the pickled rhubarb may have been the making of the dish giving an acidic note and real texture. I would love to know how they cooked the pancetta as it was literally melting and almost acted as another sauce (was it just thinly cut and melted by the heat of the plate?). The only mild disappointment was the thin sliver of cracking (surely everyone loves crackling?). Whilst a delightful garnish (how on earth do they get such a thin pencil-lead strip of cracking?), gimme more!

Salt Cod Scotch Egg with chorizo and Red Pepper Sauce

The presentation of this scotch egg made us giggle. It just needs a couple of eyes and there's the head of a Basque man on a plate! Apparently it was tasty, albeit a touch too minimal.


Slow Cooked Duck Breast with Peas, Duck Fat Chips and Gravy (GBM 2010)

K had the duck. The meat was well cooked and accompanied by a serious gravy. The side dish of peas with lettuce and lardons were incredibly moreish. The much-vaunted triple fried chips were, to be honest, simply OK. They didn't rock my world or blow my mind. Good chips yes, but nothing to write home about. I'm pretty sure I've had better elsewhere.

Loin of Cotswold Venison with Ox Tongue, Berigoule Mushroom, English Lettuce and Prickly Ash

When this arrived, my first thought was "Good Lord that's a lot of pepper on my meat!". Turns out those chaps in the kitchen know what they're doing as the prickly ash complimented the venison really well. The slab of berigoule mushroom with lardons and puffy crackling "popcorn" was a great accompaniment. As was the lettuce (why don't more people cook lettuce?). This was the first time I'd had ox-tongue and to be completely honest it tasted so like my childhood memory of Spam I was knocked for six.


Passion Fruit Soufflé with Kaffir Lime Ice Cream and Warm Toffee

We both had the soufflé to finish. When it came it was suitably impressive with the soufflé imperiously risen. Now, I expecting something comparable to my memory of the passion fruit soufflé I had at Le Gav. It's just a shame it didn't. It simply didn't taste of anything, let alone passion fruit. A disappointing end to an otherwise enjoyable meal.

I can understand why it got it's first Michelin star, but two? The food was just simply not in the same league as that at Le Gav, it's really just sophisticated "meat and two veg" meal. Having said that it is incredibly good value with starters and puds at about £9 and mains at about the £25 mark.

I'll remember my meal because of the overall experience which included being interviewed for a well-known cookery TV competition (a variant of which has professionals competing) about my venison that had been cooked by one of the contestants (never fear, you'll be saved from my musing as they obviously won't let my ugly mug get on the TV) and K's surprise at getting a soufflé for pud.

It's a very good gastro-pub and I'd definitely go again, I'm just not sure that it's "worth a detour".

Hand & Flowers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Cake shop envy

I finally made it into Dafna's Cheese Cake Factory in Liverpool today. Now my sister has been going on about this place since she started living nearby  two years ago. Yet despite numerous trips up north I've never been around when the shop was open. Since I was helping my sister move out having finished uni, today was my last chance. 

Fortunately Dafna's was open and I was not disappointed.

The shelves are heaving with all manner of traditional family favourites like carrot cake, coffee layer cake, chocolate fudge cake, pecan pie, lemon drizzle, Victoria sponge, date and walnut to name a few and not to mention the eponymous cheese cakes. And they are all available either by the slice or whole (you can even buy them frozen). And they are all remarkably cheap, I've never known anything like it! It's simply brilliant.

Needless to say we ended up buying a caramel cheesecake. And I have to admit it was good. Not in a posh patisserie way, but in a homely comfort food way. 

This is exactly the type of old-fashioned cake shop I would love to own one day.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Jubilee cookies?

How did you spend your extended Jubilee weekend? Family activities? Maybe a street party? Or even just sitting on the sofa watching a whole host of telly? Bet you didn't spend two days making cookies, because that's what I did. Obviously.

Ever since I read about "the best cookie ever", I've been waiting for an opportunity to make them. Given that the recipe requires an extensive resting period for the dough, the very long weekend finally gave me that chance.

I have to say that the cookies were great and that's not just my opinion but all of those at work who had one said that too. The cookies did have the textures I was looking for: a crunchy rim, chewy soft centre and the delightful torus of transition between the two. The flavour was great - buttery and sweet. The salt gave an extra sophisticated dimension taking the cookies to the next level.

I used slightly less chocolate than in the recipe but reckon the cookies could take more. The cookies I made were smaller than that recommended even though these bad boys were huge: a good 4" across. Any bigger would be just too much, I think...

The most difficult part was getting the baking time right. Too long and the cookies were just that little bit too crunchy, which is what happened with the very first batch. Not a disaster by any means, but just not quite chewy perfection. The key is to take them out of the oven just as the edges start to turn golden. The centre will still be molten. DON'T WORRY. As they cool all will become well. That molten centre is a necessity to get the wonderfully soft core.

The only disappointment was the recipe only made 12!

Chocolate chip cookies Makes 12 cookies

4.25oz plain flour
3.75oz strong flour
2/3tsp baking powder
2/3tsp bicarbonate of soda
2/3tsp table salt
5oz butter
5oz soft light brown sugar (muscavado)
4oz granulated sugar
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla extract
200g dark chocolate chip (~30-50% cocoa content)
A few pinches of sea salt crystals

1. Sift the flours, baking powder, bicarb and salt together.
2. Cream the butter and sugars until pale.
3. Beat in the egg and vanilla to the butter.
4. Mix in the dry ingredients and the chocolate chips
NOTE: The dough will seem very dry - don't worry.
5. Bring the dough together into a thick disk. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate. I left mine for 48hours. As the original article stated, leave it as long as you can, a day minimum, I reckon.
6. Once rested, make 2.5oz balls of dough and place on a lightly buttered baking tray. Remember to leave a perimeter of a good few inches around each one. I ended up only doing 6 at a time.
7. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on the top of each dough ball.
8. Bake for 13mins at 180°C. (Heed my warning about cooking time above and adjust to suit. Baking in small batches also allows for a little experimentation with the cooking time.)
9. Leave too cool, if you can.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Wild Food Kitchen

I've just heard about the Wild Food Kitchen restaurant and it sounds pretty good.

It's a supper club that specialises in wild food (who'd a guessed that?). They're first menu featured delights such as wild nettle gazpacho, wild venison and wild rabbit. OK so clearly I'm loving the game.

Still sounds like quite a cool feed.
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